A practice that has been used since the 1950s to treat sciatica is of no benefit and does not reduce the need for surgery, researchers have found.
Epidural injections of a corticosteroid have been scrutinized for a while, but most previous trials including those that had given the treatment the green light to continue were flawed, the researchers claim.
The latest study, carried out by Laval University in Quebec, Canada, found that epidurals could do no more than offer a short term reduction in leg pain, but "no functional benefit", the researchers concluded.
The study involved 158 sciatica patients, 78 of whom were given up to three injections of the corticosteroid methylprednisolone, while the rest were given injections of a placebo. Twelve patients in the methylprednisolone group, and 20 in the placebo group, dropped out early because the treatment was giving no benefits.
About 55 per cent in each of the groups reported very marked improvements from the treatment, while 26 per cent in the methylprednisolone group thought they had been given the placebo (New Eng J Med 1997; 336: 1634-40).